The Dangers of Access and Trespass

Suppose an environmental corporate group with an known a publicized extremist agenda were to trespass on your land because some people in the area have granted access for other traditional reasons. Suppose the goal of that trespass was to undermine your way of life and how you provide a service and make a living? This scenario is being played out in Wyoming, admittedly a huge scale, but the premise is the same at any scale throughout the west. Private property is private, and the right to grant or restrict access to private land should remain inviolate. For those who own private property and occasionally grant access to the public for particular reasons, the right to do so without fear of the results of that choice should remain in place. For those who enjoy occasional access to private property, guarding the generosity of that access should be a priority, and the abuse of such generosity should be firmly and loudly discouraged in order to preserve that generous access enjoyed by the public. Well funded organizations have litigated the issue of access often in 2014, but can the intention of access be trusted where the use of another citizen's property for certain uses may be expanded when the potential for funding in its many forms is also a possible goal? Could this access not be used then to further other agendas, environmental, zoning goals, or other governmental based land use area designations? Have these organizations not provided public comment in cases where their access to a particular property is not in question, but rather an agenda the organization espouses may be at task? Here is a look at what an organization that has litigated or supported litigation for access have stated as their public goals: Surf riders; Coastal preservation and access, ecosystem protection, wave preservation and water quality. One may see in the reading this is not an organization of beach bums worried about surfing, wanting to simply walk to a beach. In other circumstances, some organizations that promote the ideal of public access to rivers at first glance would seem to just want to have access to a great place to fish, but a closer look reveals their having a hand at almost every level of planning from development to water rights throughout the west as is the case with the Western Water Project, an arm of Trout Unlimited. The above are just two examples of how environmental organizations mask their intent under an umbrella of smaller issues. However, there are times when a simple issue can clash with a fundamental property right in a way that will lead to serious litigation that will have the shoe on the other foot. This particular case of abuse of access should raise red flags for property owners throughout the west. A rapacious activist environmental corporate organization has trespassed for the single purpose of destroying property rights, while interfering with an important industry. This article from E&E Publishing gives excellent insight into this anti-grazing organization, the The Western Watersheds Project, that takes its tactics a bit too far; angering property owners who earlier this year filed a complex lawsuit that accuses the group of trespassing to take water samples. The property owners have had enough and have filed suit to halt the trespass and to seek damages to prevent any further trespass. The United States and Wyoming Constitutions hold the ownership and protection of private property, including the right to exclude third parties, in the highest regard. Regardless whether your private property is your backyard in town or rangeland in the country, trespassing is illegal. Fifteen landowners in Fremont County, Wyoming and Lincoln County, Wyoming have filed a civil trespass lawsuit in Wyoming District Court, Fremont County, against Western Watersheds Project, Inc. and Jonathan Ratner, WWP Director for Wyoming, Utah and Colorado, and John Does 1-10 with the Western Watersheds Project, Inc. (WWP) for intentionally and without landowner permission trespassing and entering private property. The Plaintiffs in the case are seeking a permanent injunction to stop further unauthorized trespass against their private property. The Plaintiffs are also seeking recovery of actual, nominal, and punitive damages. According to Western Watersheds Project, Inc.’s website, “Policy Memo Number 2” is “To Do: Get all cows and sheep off public lands ASAP!” In order to advance the agenda of WWP, the Defendants were willing to break laws by illegally trespassing on private property. Read the rest of the inspiring article about the landowners' suit here: It is good to see such a well defined action take place, and watching for the conclusion of this case the hope is that property rights will be validated, enforced, and the loose issues of access will be better prescribed clearly and with authority.

December 19, 2014